Saturday, July 11, 2009

After the Arc was completed,

It began to rain. The month of May brought about the most rain I believe we have ever seen since being in our present house. But, since North Alabama had been in drought for some time, no one was complaining… at first. After many days of gentle rain, the saturated ground could take no more and our back yard became a shallow swimming pool.

Although our lot slopes back-to-front for drainage, the house’s crawlspace is roughly a foot below grade. During a lull in the rain, I could tell from the water marks on the under-house access door that the crawlspace was flooding from both seeping groundwater and water rising up & over the retaining wall.

I wasn’t overly concerned at first because the crawlspace has been wet before, and no problems had been caused by the water.

The first indication of trouble was heard the day after the above picture was taken when Cookie and I were playing ball after I got home from work. A wild pitch sent the ball close to the air conditioning unit located on the other side of the fence. While retrieving the ball, I heard the air handler gurgling. I don’t believe I have ever heard an air handler gurgle before, and it is not a very comforting sound especially when, as was subsequently found, no air is blowing out of the vents inside the house.

After partially disassembling the air handler, the root problem appeared to be a blockage in the 16-inch return air duct… under the house. So, I donned my swimsuit and ventured in what was now a lake under the house.

The return air duct under my house is a 46-foot long flex-hose. The rising water had apparently found a nick in the Mylar outer wrapping and proceeded to soak the Fiberglas insulation. In time the water’s weight overcame the giant zip-ties holding the hose to the return air vent. The hose then collapsed on itself after falling into a foot of water.

While within my ability to repair (once parts were acquired), the motivation to address this problem (in a swimsuit) was extremely low, and I thought strongly about calling an HVAC crew out to fix it. But whoever ultimately addressed the damage would need a lot less water under the house to do a good job, and I figured it was cheaper for me to pump it out than someone else. So, next stop – Lowes for a sump pump.

The rain had apparently caused problems for a lot of people because the pump shelves looked a lot like the generator section does after a long power outage. Luckily, the store still had what I thought was an appropriate pump for my application for sale. Reading the box, to allow automatic operation via the included float switch, the manufacturer recommended installing the pump in a sump pit. Adding “eventually dig a big hole” to my Master Plan, a 2,900 gallon-per-hour pump and 50 feet of 1-1/2 inch discharge hose were purchased, and I returned home to start what I thought would be three or four hour task.

Nothing doing – The pump was unplugged 6-1/2 hours later so I could go to bed. Another 3-1/2 hours the next morning still did not complete the task. Then it rained again that afternoon. Between seeping groundwater and continual rain, it took a week to get the standing water out of the crawlspace. During this time I decided the repair was probably going to be surprisingly expensive if someone was hired to do it. So, I stopped by an HVAC supply house and picked up new flex duct, and supplies to re-insulate the rigid supply-air ducting.

Midway through dragging all the waterlogged duct work out from under the house, the thought of hiring the rest of this job out became very appealing as this part of the task was obviously geared towards a younger man. But I managed to persevere.

Installation of the new parts went well other than a work stoppage due to having to run the pump again due to mid-task rain. With HVAC issues covered, the project's focus could now switch to the sump pump's permanent installation so as to keep this particular [literal] exercise from happening again. Remembering the sump pump manufacturer’s original instructions, a plastic sump pit was acquired.

The original plan had been to lug the thing to the crawlspace’s lowest point, and dig an appropriately-sized hole with an Army foxhole shovel in which to bury it. Luckily for me (does anyone really want to sit & dig a foxhole if he’s not being shot at?), there were too many pipes & ducts in the path of the garbage-can-sized container’s prime planting location, and the plan was dropped.

Many years ago, while planting an Acuba in the house’s front flower bed, my shovel ran across a 6-inch, concrete pipe which, after subsequent study, appeared to connect the crawlspace’s low point to some sort of French drain system. Since the pipe was full of mud, it was obvious that someone’s good idea had not stood the test of time. Since the time was ripe to explore the pipe’s starting point more closely, an exploration hole was dug next to the house, and it quickly filled with water.

As I suspected, it was obvious that my house’s builder, back in 1969, had figured there was going to be a crawlspace drainage problem, and had laid a concrete pipe in the house’s footing to get rid of probable water accumulation. Since that short piece of pipe was still draining water, the sump pump was moved there and allowed to finish draining the crawlspace.

Since I knew a deep hole was ultimately needed, and the rain was subsiding, everything was left alone for a couple of weeks to allow the ground water to subside.

Although the sump pit was 27-inches tall, a three-foot deep hole was necessary to orient it to accept flow from the below-grade crawlspace. The concrete pipe / pit union was accomplished with aluminum roof flashing and polyurethane foam sealant.

To make up the difference between the top of the pit & front garden grade, sections of plastic lawn edging were riveted together to make a collar.

The pump’s white PVC discharge pipe was painted and routed into the side of a gutter down spout whose flow is then directed through a somewhat tortuous path away from the front walkway. Midway through the effort, Kim decided that the front bed was a bit overgrown. So, new plants are now in place. While the pit is a bit more obtrusive than originally intended, the new stuff will grow to conceal it more in a few seasons. Obtrusive I can deal with; crawling under the house again to fix flood damage is tougher.

Of course the rain has now stopped, and other than filling the pit from a hose, the system has not had a true test. But I think my duct work will survive the next heavy rain.


  1. Ah yes, the long-awaited sump pump post. Sounds like a lot of work, but you've clearly never been afraid of THAT! :)


  2. Interestingly, I thought the pump would not see action until next Spring's flood(s). It rained like a son-of-a-gun last night, and through a subtle clue (the overhead light on the same circuit as the pump dimmed slightly this morning while I was checking out Frank's update) I went out to check on everything.

    While still dark outside, my flashlight & ears confirmed that the new setup was cycling to keep my ductwork dry. Success!